Christine’s long fight for a repair to her boiler

Christine Thornhill, 70, from Fareham, has got a full refund on her boiler insurance after Streetwise intervened. ''Picture: Sarah Standing (142557-6487)
Christine Thornhill, 70, from Fareham, has got a full refund on her boiler insurance after Streetwise intervened. ''Picture: Sarah Standing (142557-6487)

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There’s nothing worse than a combination boiler going on the blink in the middle of winter.

This was the problem facing Christine Thornhill, a 70-year-old pensioner from Fareham when at the beginning of the year her boiler made an unfamiliar noise and stopped working.

The former garden centre employee spoke to her son about it and he recommended taking out a maintenance contract with Heat Plan Utilities Ltd, a company based in Coulsdon, Surrey.

For a one-off payment of £190 or £16 a month they provide an annual boiler service, and 24/7 breakdown cover which includes the boiler controls. Her preference was for the monthly payment, but she was told this wasn’t available.

Christine thought things were on the move after she received her paperwork and a telephone call to say that an engineer would make an appointment to inspect her boiler. But the promised appointment never materialised.

When she insisted the boiler wasn’t working properly, they sent out an engineer who told her to bleed the radiators which she did. That still didn’t do the trick.

Christine said: ‘I told them I didn’t have any heat and had to get a couple of halogen heaters.

‘I was on chemotherapy at the time so you really feel the cold badly but that didn’t seem to carry any weight at all. I’m not a boiler engineer and I didn’t expect after paying £190 to do all the work myself so I turned the boiler off.’

In frustration she phoned back again only to be told the problem was all down to low water pressure and to open the system taps to repressurise it.

When that didn’t make a blind bit of difference Christine got onto them again, and to her amazement was informed that by repressurising the system she’d damaged the boiler and breached her contract.

To her fury she received a cheque reimbursing her with the derisory sum of £47.49, a shortfall of £142.51 for what she believed to be poor service which had achieved nothing.

Although she wrote to the company on three occasions to ask for a full refund, the letters went unanswered.

Fed up with being ignored, Christine decided to write to Streetwise. We got in touch with Heat Plan Utilities and pointed out it appeared her complaint had not been given the attention it deserved.

We said that by not carrying out the initial inspection the firm was in breach of contract. Had they examined the boiler they would have been able to accurately diagnose the problem and fix it.

There were many reasons why a combination boiler system might not fire up, low water pressure being just one of them. They could be open to an accusation of negligence if Christine followed their advice and consequential damage to the appliance was an issue.

Andrew Knight, the firm’s operations manager denied it was in breach of contract. He explained the only reason they’d not been able to carry out the initial service was because they were unable to get in touch with Christine about it at the time.

He told us the pressure diagnosis simply required Mrs Thornhill to look at the boiler’s pressure gauge and observe it was calibrated from 0 to 3 bar.

But he didn’t explain how one of their operatives had diagnosed a low water pressure problem without examining the boiler in the first place.

Mr Knight conceded that Christine’s complaint could have been handled better. He said: ‘We believe that you have raised some interesting points that we will look into further, and we are prepared to issue Mrs Thornhill the remainder of her refund.’

Christine was grateful that by writing to Streetwise her issues with the company had finally been sorted. ‘Thank you very much for your help,’ she said.